A Green Manifesto: The Deal with the Green Team and the Deal with the Zabaleen
This is not a lecture. This is not a page of information designed to interest you until you reach the bottom. This is a call, a call to you. A call to raise you out from the mediocrity of letting other people worry about the world, into a progressive, sustainable future of your making.
The Green Team is not a class, nor is it a group of people who hang out after school on Sunday for three quarters of an hour feeling smug for caring about the environment and the world, painting the earth on fire or covered in trash heaps to idly decorate the school. The Green Team is a fountain of ideas and projects. People organise into groups to tackle these projects. The groups and the projects are as large or small as the members desire. The Green Team is a place where you can learn about what the immediate, local, tangible problems are, problems that require innovative but simple solutions, problems that you can begin working to fix immediately. If you have an idea for how the community, be it CAC or Maadi at large, can work towards sustainability and environmental accountability then come to the Green Team to share, if you do not then come to the Green Team to learn. If you are inspired bring your inspiration, if you lack it come get inspired. This doesn’t work without you.
So what are we all about? Our greatest opponents remain ignorance and misinformation, therefore a lot of Green Team projects, such as this one, focus on communication. Posters, films, pictures, writings and speeches, we propagate through all mediums and we require those who are adept at working them. The message we have to spread is huge and urgent, let me give you a sample by telling you about the Zabaleen, the garbage collectors, here in Cairo.
You have to drive for less than half an hour from the school’s gates to enter what seems like a different world. The Green Team organised excursion to a children’s school and the women’s recycling centre at Mokattam demonstrated this exquisitely. As you enter the slum the roads and apartments narrow. All the gaps are occupied by people, livestock, or more frequently trash. A sometimes faint and often strong stench of decaying organic matter underlies everything. On the bottom floor of each apartment, consisting typically of single small rooms open towards the street, women and children sort through piles of trash. The men are out, searching for more trash that may yield some value for their family. Their work seems infinite. Their beds reside a single story up from the sea of trash, and even basic services such as electricity and water run only for a few hours a day, if at all. But in the midst of all this poverty some astounding things are happening. Before the culling of the pigs, when organic waste still found a direct purpose in the six settlements of the Zabaleen, 80-90% of all the gathered garbage could be put to use. This is a benchmark value that even high-tech western recycling facilities have to strive to achieve. This incredible efficiency aside, it appears like that for the first time a concept has been designed that will provide an education even to the children of the poorest.
The Spirit of Youth Organisation, founded by a Zabaleen, offers an education to the children of the exceptionally poor, in addition to the opportunity to earn the extra income that their families rely on. The organisation owns a plastic shredder that turns empty shampoo bottles into plastic chips that Asian companies buy at 3000LE/Tonne to create polyester sweaters. The school buys the empty bottles from the students who attend the school at twice the price they bought them at. If a child attends at least 16 lessons a week he or she may sell 200LE worth of bottles to the school, making a profit of 100LE in the process. This is an attractive deal for the poor families that these children come from, making it likely that they will send their children to receive an education. This organisation recently received a million dollar grant from the Bill Gates Foundation. This is enough money to start another 500 of the school projects already in place, with the long term goal of replacing the European multinational companies currently “officially” responsible for trash collection in Cairo with a formalised Zabaleen-run system.
Why am I telling you about the Zabaleen when their projects seem to be working out so well? In part to let you know that everything’s not lost. On the other hand make no mistake, the Zabaleen’s situation is a critical one. The settlement at Mokattam alone receives over 4000 Tonnes of garbage a day. That is far more garbage than the Zabaleen living there can process, and much of it is unseparated organic waste which decays and poses a health hazard as it cannot be separated and moved to composting facilities fast enough. We, the people who rely on the Zabaleen to remove and recycle our trash, can be a help to them by separating wet and/or organic waste from dry waste. Milk cartons, chip bags and paper soaked in vegetable juices are all examples of contaminated waste that no longer can be recycled by the Zabaleen. Wash out your tins, cans and bottles, and feel free to mix them with paper, cardboard and recyclable plastic (plastics are marked with numbers indicating hardness, hardness 1 and 2 can be recycled, higher numbers cannot) but separate this from your food and other organic wastes. Separate toxic materials such as batteries and incandescent light bulbs further that they are easily recognised and do not harm the Zabaleen. But a more important step is to reduce how much trash we generate in the first place...
Let me leave you with this thought: the situation described above is just the tip of the iceberg (a slogan you may see again in the near future). The Green Team is the coordinated effort of people who want to be a part of the solution to the problem. Regardless of what your talent is this is a cause it can be used for, don’t you feel it’s a worthy one?
In the next issue you may expect to hear from one of the student projects that was born in that magical artroom where the Green Team meets, until then, in the words of Chuck Berry: “Johnny B. Green.”
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